I’m not a Catholic.papa

I’ve never had a particular interest in becoming a Catholic. But last week, I followed Pope Francis’ visit to the U.S. with much interest, as I am sure many of my fellow Protestants did.

Francis represents something new and novel for people my age. See, for much of my life, John Paul II was the pope, but by the time we came of age to know anything about the world, he was pretty old and frail. To look at old photographs when he was young and vibrant, commanding crowds of thousands is almost surreal. Like Billy Graham in a robe.

And then there was Benedict for a few years, and nothing against him, but this is the first time in many of our lifetimes that we know a pope that is out and about in the world. Like it or not, he goes where he wishes and comments on issues that are relevant to every human being on earth.

And so, as I followed the Pope’s visit, I also kept up with what people were saying about the Pope’s visit.

People who call themselves Christians.

People who claim to stand up for morals and righteousness.

And I found myself shocked, though perhaps I should be past shock by my age. But there is a whole world of so-called Christians who I have absolutely nothing in common with.

All it took was a visit from the Pope to reveal it.

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I have a question for you.

Do we want to change?

Not just change the rules or change the system, but change ourselves as a people.

I ask this because last week, we had an event happen that, let’s admit, we are all used to happening.

Another shooter. Another gun. Another campus.

You and I sit at home and say, “How sad.”

But we also think to ourselves, “It could never happen here.

I fully admit that’s what I think. And so, we allow another event to slip through our fingers without anything being done about it.

The fact is that you and I and every other human being on Earth does not like change. We are creatures of habit and inertia. We like our mess just the way it is, thank you very much. And usually on a micro level, it takes a significant event to make us clean up our mess. We have to have a medical emergency, or the threat of divorce or some other “wake up call” that motivates us to actually do hard things.

The other fact of human nature is that we worry about “number one” first. We may give enough time or money to feel “generous” or “moral,” but we protect our nests and our own baby birds above all else. And so when a problem is “out there,” we let it lie outside and don’t make it our responsibility.

There is no single person in America, not even the President, who can change the nature of our society. No single person can stop shooters from shooting up campuses. There is also no single solution that will stop the problem. Taking guns away won’t do it. National mental health screenings won’t. Better security, or anything else we could dream up won’t fix anything.

The solution is much more complicated than any of those things. It may or may not involve any of the above.

But it also involves each of us. 

You and I don’t have the ability to change our society. But we have some little corner of the world that we watch over. We have some circle of influence. And we have the ability to make that circle more a more peaceful place, more loving, more kind, more generous.


We don’t have an epidemic of “crazy people with guns.” We have an epidemic of disenfranchised, isolated people.

We all have the ability and the responsibility to see those people.

The world does not change unless each of us moves to change it.

A few weeks ago, for the first time in several years, I took a new job.images

No, I didn’t quit teaching. It’s just on the side. Moonlighting, if you will.

I became an Uber driver, and it’s been a pretty fun way to spend a night or two each week and make a little extra money.

I have to say that driving has put me in greater touch with my community and exposed me to a wider variety of people than anything else I can remember doing. It’s been fascinating, fulfilling, and sometimes a little annoying as strangers pile into my car for a few minutes while I drive them around town. You meet a whole lot more people driving for Uber than pastoring a church or teaching at a school, that’s for sure.

And so, after a few weeks of cruising with strangers, here is what I think I’ve learned from my fresh exposure to the theater of humanity.

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There was a time in my life when I tried to do everything.

If someone asked a favor. Or if someone had an odd job. Or maybe someone thought I’d be good for a task. If someone asked, I complied. I thought I had to say “yes.”

I thought saying yes to everything was how adults worked.

Maybe I did this because of my time in high school, the one stretch of time when we have the opportunity and are encouraged to do as much as possible.

Whenever someone asked me to do something, I had even trained myself to think of the request, not as a task or a burden, but an opportunity. 

I felt I had to do this, not just to do things for people, but to be things for people. I thought I had to be the guy who always showed up, always pitched in, always carried the load. If I did that long enough, then people would appreciate me, would respect me, even love me.

The problem with those “opportunities” is that most of them do not lead anywhere. They do not get you ahead. The people asking are usually not really thinking about your time or talents. When they say you’d be “good” for a task, what they really mean is that you could be useful to help them get a task off of their plate. And helping people with their little tasks never bought me appreciation, respect or love.

These days, I have become well practiced at a new discipline of saying no. 

And it’s such a relief.

I don’t always show up. I don’t always help out. I don’t help with things that are not in my wheelhouse.

I have started to see “opportunities” for what they are. I now see the time-wasters and dead-ends. And that’s a good thing.

It’s a good thing because I can’t be everything to everyone. I have to choose to be someone for the people who are really counting on me. 

So I can’t take care of some menial task this week. I have to be a teacher today.

No, I’m sorry I can’t make it to your little event. I have to be a husband.

Sorry, I can’t take care of that for you. I have to be a dad tonight.


That is plenty. And I think we might all be a lot happier if we structured our lives more in that way. Taking fewer “opportunities” from the people on the periphery of our lives, and investing more in the people who need us most.

You can tell a lot about people by what they are afraid of.

The god of safety demands a child sacrifice. Following the ritual, worshippers will be assured that they have been absolved of all danger and are safe again.

The god of safety demands a child sacrifice. Following the ritual, worshippers will be assured that they have been absolved of all danger and are safe again.

I was under the impression that we lived in a relatively safe place and time. We have spent billions of dollars on making our country secure, making our travel secure, sanitizing and double-locking every aspect of our lives that we can.

And yet, we are still afraid.

I’ve been following the story, as I’m sure you have, of Ahmed Mohamed, the teenager whose clock was mistaken for a bomb at his school.

I don’t really care to write about the positive attention he’s received since then, although people have been surprisingly divided by it. Bill Callen from Top Right News tried to point out all the white kids who get suspended “for no reason,” like the second grader with ADHD who chewed his pop tart into the shape of a gun. “Where is his invitation to the White House?” he asks, incredulous.

Well, that kid didn’t invent something. He was still a privileged, bratty kid causing a disruption at school. So even if a suspension was overkill, that comparison fails pretty hard.

No, what I am more interested in is why the device caused such an uproar in the first place, and what it says about us as a society.

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You and I will have opportunities today.


The rest of this month.

In fact, every day, you and I are probably bombarded with opportunities, all competing for our attention.

The events of the world present us with opportunities to respond. Some people choose to respond to refugees by opening their borders and their homes. Others put up fences, or dredge up reports that say the refugees are “economic” rather than “war” refugees.

The issues of our times present us with opportunities to respond. We can pretend that our society’s institutions are blameless and upright, even in the face of damning evidence. Or we can face the truth and help convince others.

Our everyday interactions present us with opportunities to respond. I am not so sure that social media has made us any more “social.” But every day, we are presented with a million opportunities to get into an online word brawl, to be sucked into foolish arguments over nothing at all.

Last week, I said off hand that the opportunities we take say as much about our character as the opportunities we pass up. And I’ve been thinking about that since then.

There are plenty of opportunities we should pass up. The opportunities that waste our time, waste our words, or waste our energy are good places to start. We can stop throwing our full-hearted allegiance behind big-egoed politicians. We can stop sharing inflammatory half-truths on social media. We can stop towing the party line.

But there are many opportunities that we ignore, and in so doing, we commit the sin of omission.

The words we did not say.

The love we did not share.

The truth we did not demonstrate.

The generosity we did not demonstrate.


This week, you and I will be pummelled with a million opportunities. Some will come our way at work or at home. A few will come through the nightly news or at church. A whole bunch will come through Facebook or Twitter.

And all of those opportunities are choices about the kinds of people we are going to be this week.